"Transformers 4" is giving Optimus Prime and two new Autobots shiny identities. The C7 Corvette Stingray and the 1,200-horsepower Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse that Paramount Pictures debuted on Wednesday are rumored to be Slingshot and Drift, respectively — one is a classic "Transformers" character from the 1980s mythology and another is from IDW's 2005 comic-book reboot of the franchise.
But what does their identity — and in Optimus' case, upgrade — mean for the future of the "Transformers" films? There are a number of intriguing possibilities.
In 1986's "Transformers: The Movie," Optimus Prime famously died fighting Megatron and paving the way for young, brash Hot Rod to take over as leader of the Autobots. While there's been no indication that the fourth film will make a similar transition — into a "next-generation" Autobot and Decepticon cast — Optimus' transformation into a sleek new cab suggests at the very least that the series is looking forward and creating new, evolved personalities for the characters fans know and love. (Giving them a paint job probably can't hurt after all of the carnage they endured in the first three films, either.)
Slingshot was originally conceived as a plane — one of the Aerialbots — although he was absent from the team during their appearance in 2009's "Revenge of the Fallen." But one can't help but expect that, even in four-wheeled form, the character will retain his trademark, annoying self-aggrandizement, especially since Michael Bay has demonstrated a propensity for populating his films with oversized, often slightly obnoxious personalities. That said, the character made a significant transformation (no pun intended) in the original cartoon series, which not only mirrors that of fellow newcomer Drift, but suggests that the upcoming film may have greater moral and conceptual complexity than its predecessors.
Specifically, Slingshot idolized Megatron and the Decepticon jets, even as an Autobot, but eventually came to despise them because of their callous disregard for life and their ambitions for world and even universal domination. His disillusionment with vehicles — again, in his original jet form — which were more accomplished and successful than he was led to a stronger idealism as an Autobot, an idea that was virtually absent from the first three films: growth and change in the robot characters. If the filmmakers elect to focus more heavily on the robots themselves, rather than their human counterparts, the films may achieve a greater scope and reveal more about the world of Cybertron and the civil war which destroyed it eons ago.
Like Slingshot, Drift shared an affinity for the Decepticons for a time... so much so that he was actually one of them. But eventually he changes his loyalty and commits his skills as a swordsman to the Autobot cause. This results in some skepticism from his new comrades, but what's interesting about his epiphany is that it comes as a result of his distaste for the war the Decepticons waged at the expense of Cybertron. Namely, they became a greater force for evil in general than the forces that fought against them, and he became an Autobot to help restore stability to the Transformer universe. This could possibly mean that the fourth film examines the theological implications of the two sides of the conflict, and the divide would be underscored by these two characters who struggle to come to terms with which side they're on.
But to put a fresh twist on an old catchphrase, whoever, loses, we win: with Bay at the helm and a fresh cast of characters, both human and robot, "Transformers 4" promises to be bigger and more action-packed than any of the earlier films.